California CD 'Return to Sender' Bill Fails

California's “Return to Sender” bill was narrowly defeated in the state Assembly's Art, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee this week.

The bill would have required mailers sending unsolicited CDs to include a postage-paid return mailer. The vote was 3-4 with six abstentions. It also would have required postage-paid mailers for EZ-Ds, which are DVDs that become unusable after 48 hours.

The Buena Vista Home Entertainment Division of The Walt Disney Company began using EZ-Ds last year to make movies available at retail in limited test markets for $5 to $6. It plans to expand sales to supermarkets and video stores nationwide eventually.

Alan Blaustein, CEO of Flexplay Technologies Inc., developer of the EZ-D technology, said EZ-Ds should not have been included in the bill because, unlike unsolicited CDs, the consumer makes “an active decision to purchase the product.”

Blaustein also said that “well before this bill ever came into discussion, we had established [several] recycling programs that met the objectives, the spirit and the letter of what is trying to be achieved with the bill.”

For example, the company has partnered with GreenDisk, a specialized electronic waste recycling company. Consumers can recycle EZ-D discs by mailing them to GreenDisk, and they can request a free, prepaid postage mailer or print out an electronic, prepaid label. Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Flexplay also offer a recycling incentive program in which consumers who send in six expired discs to be recycled can receive one free EZ-D.

As distribution of Flexplay discs increases, Blaustein said, Flexplay will continue to work with content providers and recycling partners to broaden the collection and recycling program.

America Online Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner that sends out millions of trial-offer CD-ROMs annually, was pleased by the vote.

“[The vote] was a practical and reasonable result to an impractical and unreasonable bill,” AOL spokesman Nicholas J. Graham said. “The legislation was a solution in search of a problem, and it was a punitive and prejudicial and burdensome bill that would have unnecessarily taxed the software industry.”

Graham said that AOL will continue to “give consumers the option of opting out of future CD mailings if that's what they choose to do.”

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, introduced the bill, AB 2166, in February. It had passed the Natural Resources Committee on April 19. Though the bill is dead for this year, Hancock said the issue is not going away.

“Return to sender will return next year,” she said. “I'm going to bring it up again next year, and it will be brought up in other states until it gets resolved because these things are going to be in our landfill for 400 years, and when they can be recycled they should be recycled.”

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